Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Moderation

 

President Donald Trump appears to be adopting more conventional positions aligned with decades of U.S. foreign-policy making and diplomacy, pulling back from some of the more unorthodox promises he advanced as a candidate.

In recent dealings with Asia and the Middle East, Russia and European allies, Mr. Trump has showed more deference to the consensus views taken by past Republican and Democratic administrations. The coming week provides another set of tests, with visits by the leaders of Canada and Israel scheduled.

A weekend missile launch from North Korea offered a vivid illustration of how Mr. Trump has abandoned crowd-pleasing campaign rhetoric in the face of real-world threats. As a candidate, Mr. Trump said a U.S. defense agreement with Japan was unfair, permitting the Japanese to sit home and watch “Sony” TV while the U.S. was attacked.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abevisiting his Mar-a-Lago estate, the two men made a joint appearance Saturday night in response to the missile launch and Mr. Trump proclaimed that the “United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%.”

Mr. Trump’s evolution comes as his foreign-policy team has taken shape, with Jim Mattisand Rex Tillerson confirmed by the Senate and firmly in place at the Defense and State departments, respectively.

“He’s getting more advice and he seems to see wisdom in greater orthodoxy,” said Jon Alterman, who runs the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank.

The early days of the Trump presidency also have proved a reality check for the president, with his campaign messaging and bold assertions of executive power colliding with geopolitical realities and Constitutional checks and balances.

Last week, an appeals court in San Francisco dealt him a setback, upholding suspension of travel restrictions Mr. Trump says are necessary to guard Americans against terrorist attack. In the ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the limits on a president’s powers, sweeping aside the government’s argument that Mr. Trump’s authority when it comes to immigration is “unreviewable” by the courts.

Peter Edelman, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said about the court’s decision: “This is a marker. What it shows us is there are boundaries to the power of the executive and that no president can violate them.”

In the foreign-policy realm meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been tempering, shifting and reversing course on a host of statements he made while campaigning against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During the race, he had maintained a combative approach to China, and broke protocol after his victory by accepting a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s leader. He described the “One China” policy that grants diplomatic recognition to Beijing but not Taiwan as up for negotiation, a possible bargaining chip as he pressed for concessions from the Chinese in its currency practices.

“Everything is under negotiation, including ‘One-China,’ ” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview a week before he was sworn-in.

But on Thursday, Mr. Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and acquiesced to the status quo, confirming he would abide by the same “One China” policy that has underpinned Sino-American relations.

White House officials said Mr. Trump did so to reset relations with the Chinese.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump vowed that his Treasury Department will label China a “currency manipulator,” setting in motion “countervailing duties” on Chinese imports.

Now, three weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump still hasn’t slapped China with that designation.

Last week, he also moved to embrace broadly the status quo in U.S.-Asia policy, saying, after a meeting with Mr. Abe in Washington, that he would uphold America’s alliances and military agreements in the region.

Even before the report of North Korea’s missile launch, Mr. Trump had dropped the tough talk about Japan and gone out of his way to befriend America’s ally. He flew Mr. Abe to his Florida home Air Force One and the two golfed together Saturday at the Trump National Jupiter Golf Club.

“Having a great time hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the United States!” Mr. Trump wrote Saturday in a post on his Twitter account, accompanied by a picture of the two men high-fiving on a tee.

Mr. Trump has taken a similar posture toward U.S. alliances in Europe, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, he said he would strongly back the alliance. His administration is expected to support Montenegro’s bid to join NATO, though Russia opposes the move.

Before taking office, Mr. Trump described the NATO alliance as “obsolete.” But key cabinet secretaries have been far more bullish on NATO and Mr. Trump has shown he will heed recommendations from his advisers. Both Messrs. Mattis and Tillerson voiced support for NATO in confirmation hearings.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump advocated waterboarding as a means of fighting terrorists. A week after taking office, Mr. Trump announced that he would reverse course and defer to Mr. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, who believes such measures don’t work—a position consistent with Obama administration policy.

Mr. Trump also has retreated from his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, opting not to do that within days of taking office. What’s more, Mr. Trump issued a statement warning Israel that expanding the construction of settlements to new areas could be an impediment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. That stance tracks with longstanding U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

Settlements, Mr. Trump told an Israeli newspaper last week, “don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to visit Mr. Trump at the White House on Wednesday, the settlement and embassy issues could prove a source of contention.

That, too, wouldn’t be unusual. Former President Barack Obama clashed openly with Mr. Netanyahu about settlement construction.

Russia is one glaring piece of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy around which there is still little clarity. Mr. Trump has said he wants closer relations with Russia, but it is unclear how he would achieve that. Russia is seen by many U.S. officials from both parties as an adversary, a view that intensified after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow used cyberattacks to try to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Russia denies involvement in the hacks.

Mr. Trump has suggested he might lift sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to the hacks if he can cut a deal with Russia on other issues.

Yet he has fallen in line with European leaders and U.S. lawmakers’ view that America should maintain sanctions against Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine until Moscow abides by an agreement to end the violence. The White House said recently those sanctions should not be lifted unless Russia holds up its end of that bargain.

David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and author of “Running the World,” a book about the U.S. National Security Council, said about the president’s trend toward diplomatic conventions: “These are very early days, but it’s clear that Trump is getting a healthy dose of reality. As a consequence of his encounters with both foreign leaders and the professional representatives of the U.S. government, it’s becoming clear to him that a lot of his campaign rhetoric was ill-conceived.”

 

 

Source: Wall Street Journal

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